“The majority of sources that came across my path…”

That fragment isn’t a teaser; it’s all I wrote down. I’m sure my student finished the sentence somehow—”were useful”? “were hard for me to understand”? “seemed irrelevant”? “gave the same information”?

No matter. This is yet another instance of the passive student in a world of lively inanimate objects.

Here I am, sitting in the library (perhaps, or in my bed with my laptop before me), hoping to work on a paper for which I am supposed to do research. I am sitting here, evidently, passively and hopefully.

And sure enough, along the aisles come parades of sources. Can you see them? Slim books, fat books, bound periodicals, videotapes, microfiche cards… Or, if I’m sitting at my computer, here they come like pop-up ads and streaming banners: links, excerpts, full-text articles, YouTube screens… In either case, they’re all headed for ME, traveling at right angles to my gaze, or to my assigned task.

And I just sit there. Or maybe I get up and walk a step or two—not sure if my “path” is figurative or literal.

All those sources come across my path. I seem not even to have summoned them, let alone located and seized them for my use. I reckon I’m pretty lucky—had I sat in a different section of the library, or opened my laptop at a different time, I would probably have missed the parade, since the sources weren’t actually ever coming to me: they were just coming across my path. They would have marched along to their intended destination, and I would have been luckless and sourceless. My paper might have failed to be completed! My grade might not have been able to pass!

Such writing suggests that the world of today’s student, or today’s young adult, is curiously random, a place where things happen to people rather than being the result of anyone’s actions or choices. Flotsam on the sea of life, without what we currently call “agency.”

What ever happened to that conviction of responsibility and purpose that infused us Back In The Day, when we thought we could make the world a better place just by making an impassioned effort? (And we succeeded, too, to a point…)

Those were the days when research was a pursuit—legwork as well as head-work. And damn, it was fun.


About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

7 responses to ““The majority of sources that came across my path…”

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